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Leukonychia: Description, Causes and Risk Factors:

Leukonychia is the white discoloration of the nail plate. It was first described in the end of 19th century. Leukonychia has many subtypes. True leukonychia is attributable to matrix dysfunction. Apparent leukonychia is due to changes in the underlying tissue, pseudoleukonychia is used when the nail plate alternation has an external origin, such as in onychomycosis or in keratin granulations observed after nail enamel applications. Leukonychia can be congenital or acquired. Congenital leukonychias can be a phenomenon or can be determined with other diseases. There are a lot of causes of acquired leukonychia.

LeukonychiaLeukonychia is divided into two broad categories; leukonychia totalis and leukonychia partialis. It totalis is a condition where complete discoloration of the nails occurs and hence, the nails appear completely white. This is usually a genetic disorder; however it can also be caused later in life. Leukonychia totalis causes include low albumin levels, liver failure, kidney failure, improper absorption of proteins. It totalis symptoms include completely whitening of the nails. It partialis can be caused due to several reasons like injury to the base of the nail, chemotherapy, cirrhosis, anemia, ulcerative colitis, deficiency of vitamins, zinc and other nutrients, fungal infections, arsenic poisoning. In case of children, leukonychia can be caused due to frequent biting of nails. It should also be noted that frequent use of nail paints or harmful chemicals on the nails are also some of the potential causes of this condition in people. In this condition, white spots or lines appear on the nails. The nails also appear abnormal and brittle.

Sometimes leukonychia is a sign of a more serious problem such as a nutritional deficiency. Changes in nail color are also associated with ill health, especially circulatory conditions like heart failure, although usually the condition has already been diagnosed so the it is not a diagnostic sign. It can also be evidence of a bacterial, fungal, or viral infection in the nail, or of exposure to toxins such as arsenic.

If someone in otherwise good health develops leukonychia and risk factors such as recent trauma to the fingers, receiving a manicure, or attending a gym, where people can commonly pick up fungal infections, are not in evidence, it may be a sign of a nutritional deficiency or another medical problem. A doctor can provide an evaluation to check for conditions which might be causing leukonychia but going otherwise unnoticed and make treatment recommendations. For onychomycosis, a fungal infection of the nail, for example, antifungal medications can be prescribed.

Possible risk factors may include:

Addison disease.

  • After the treatment with antimetabolites.
  • Cardiac failure.
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus.
  • Arsenic poisoning.
  • Menstrual cycle.
  • Myocardial infarct.
  • Exfoliative dermatitis.
  • Hodgkin disease.
  • Infectious fever.
  • Leprosy, malaria, pneumonia.
  • Herpes zoster.
  • Fungal infections.
  • Tuberculosis.
  • Pellagra.
  • Thallium poisoning.
  • Tuberculosis.
  • Trauma.
  • Zinc deficiency.
  • Trichinosis.


The first sign of this condition is the appearance of white spots on the nail. There can also be multiple white lines in the fingernails as well as nails that become totally white.This condition is more common in fingernails than toenails but can occur with both.

The most common symptoms and signs may include:

Hammer toes.

  • Hyperkeratosis.
  • Gingivitis.
  • Abnormal nail colors.
  • Skin cysts.
  • Skin syndactyly of fingers.
  • Arthrogryposis.


A doctor will take a thorough medical history, and may test liver and kidney function for other possible causes of the disease.


Increasing the quantity of grains, vegetables and nuts and even taking a zinc supplement (as zinc deficiency is a cause of leukonychia) is a good preventative and treatment, as is keeping affected nails out of harms way when using chemicals of any kind as they can further damage the nail.

Products such as nail polish can offer temporary solutions for hiding the white spots until the nails grow out. But remember that overuse of these products could have caused the problem in the first place. So it is advised to use the products in moderation.

An individual can prevent it by taking better care of the nails and prevent them from being mistreated by stopping hitting, rubbing or biting them.

If there has not been any improvement in these white spots or discolored nails in over 8 months, then it is advised to consult with your primary care physician to perhaps see if there is not some other underlying health problem or infection contributing to this problem.

NOTE: The above information is educational purpose. The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition.

DISCLAIMER: This information should not substitute for seeking responsible, professional medical care.

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